Chapter 4 : Down Memory Lane
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Lily tapped the scroll against her hand, her eyes traveling around the vast multi-purpose room. In Muggle terms, it would simply be called the conference room, but apparently, Aurors always made things a little more complicated. The room was supposedly able to transform into anything anyone wanted it to. If someone desired to play a game of Quidditch, the place would provide the pitch.
It was quirky, but at the same time, beneficial.
She glanced around and took note of the Aurors that she would be spending most of her time with. The scroll in her hand was her formal initiation and acceptance into Aurorhood. She had been placed under Alastor Moody, who had been redirected to professional Auror business instead of training Aurors-to-be.
Alice was on the other side of the room, chatting with a girl named Dorcas Meadows, who graduated two years prior to Lily from Hogwarts. Then there was Maxim Caden, Marlene McKinnon, and Triscilla Montgomery. They were told that a few other Aurors would be joining the group shortly, but they had yet to arrive. Lily looked out towards the far corner of the room and saw James and Aileen chatting away.
There were a destined total of ten Aurors in her group, a nice round number, according to Moody.
Lily smiled at Alice when she discreetly gave her the thumbs-up, and then turned her attention to James, who had just popped up on her right. His smile was wide, his eyes bright. He looked positively cheerful and Lily couldn’t help but smile. Like always, his smile was contagious.
“Lily, Lily,” he drawled playfully. “I find it absolutely disheartening that you’re eyeing other males in the room. Whatever happened to having eyes only for me?”
She lifted an eyebrow and punched him lightly in the chest. “When I finish settling my score with you, I’ll tell you the answer.”
“Settling the score?” James winced. “That doesn’t sound fun. Can’t it wait till later?”
“No,” Lily said, as firmly as possible. “You owe me quite a few answers. You aren’t needed for anything important, are you?”
He blinked and looked around hurriedly. “Well actually, I…” And then his eyes suddenly lit up, and he fled, returning a few seconds later with Aileen in tow. He grinned in what he thought was a convincing way. “I have to write a report with Aileen later…actually, now, so you know, I can’t really…”
She narrowed her eyes. Report? With Aileen? Lily slowly took in a deep breath and then let it out again. She needed to control herself. She believed James when he said that there was nothing going on between the two of them. It was stupid to have spurts of jealousy when there was nothing to be jealous about.
She forced her face into a look of disbelieving skepticism. “Why do I find that somewhat hard to believe?”
Aileen wrenched her arm away from James’ grasp. “This entire thing is ridiculous. I refuse to be your savior when you have something to settle with your girlfriend. Don’t bring me into this.” To Lily, she smiled. “Don’t mind him. He’s always been afraid of girls.”
His jaw dropped. “I have not!”
“He’s only saying that,” Aileen assured her, and then left with a friendly wave.
James slowly turned around and offered Lily the best dazzling smile that he could muster at the moment, which was truthfully, rather brilliant. Lily willed the smile to disappear from her face and put up a mask of mock sternness.
“Potter, you’re coming with me.”
“Really, Lily, I do have something to do. I’m not lying. I have to prepare the welcoming list for the Aurors that will arrive later today, and then…”
“Alice is doing that, remember?” She smirked and clucked her tongue. “You’re out of excuses.” And then she grabbed his arm and towed him away from the conference hall. A few catcalls followed them out of the room, but she only grinned and continued on her way. Since her room was too far away, she yanked James into his instead and pushed him into a chair.
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Why is it always me?” he muttered.
Lily grinned and seated herself on the arm of the chair. “Oh come on. I’m curious.” She nudged him. “You started training the same time I did. Why were you already an Auror when I was still an Auror-in-training?”
James remained silent for a while. Lily tilted her head, only to find his head cocked, lips pursed as if he were pondering a particularly difficult question. She was about to nudge him again when he asked, “Are you uncomfortable like that?”
Lily blinked. “What?”
“Come here.” He reached out and pulled her off the armrest and onto his lap. She instinctively snuggled closer to him and he wrapped his arms around her waist. “There now. Isn’t this better?”
“Yes, but you still have to answer the question.”
He blew out an exasperated breath, tickling the fine hairs on her neck. She giggled and he pulled her closer to him, resting his chin on her shoulder. “I know, I know. You stubborn little witch.”
Lily nodded. “Come on now.”
“There’s not really much to explain, actually.” She felt him shrug. “I guess I zipped through the training faster than you did, mastered the concepts a little quicker, and passed the exam a few months ahead of you.”
She frowned and turned around. “You’re allowed to do that?”
James looked thoughtful. “Well, I don’t see why not. There’s only so much to learn, and if they feel that you’ve mastered everything, why keep you as an Auror-in-training longer than necessary?”
“This is depressing.”
He pulled away, surprised. “Why?”
“Because it proves that you are smarter than me.” Lily let out a sigh and then gave him a little smile. “You were right, you know, when you said at Hogwarts that you were the better of the two of us.”
James scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Oh please, even you know better than that. It was a battle of words. Of course I had to make myself seem superior.”
“Finally!” She grinned cheekily. “You finally admitted that you were bluffing! Took you a while, you know, but…”
He narrowed his eyes and his lips turned down into a frown. “You…you…” And then without warning, he promptly stood up and dumped her onto the floor. “That’s it.”
Lily’s mouth fell open in shock and she glared up at the towering figure standing above her. “You just dumped me!”
“I did, didn’t I?”
“And you think I’m going to just stand around and take all this?”
He smirked and looked down his nose at her. “Well no, considering you’re currently sitting, not standing. Do you need me to help you up or can you do that on your own?”
Lily slowly pushed herself to her knees, and when she noticed that cocky smile on his face, she surged forward and grabbed his legs, toppling him over onto the couch. He hit the armchair and fell to the ground with an ‘oomph.’
She stood up and dusted her hands off. “Well, look what we have here.” She snickered. “Now let’s see you gloat, Potter. You aren’t so high and mighty anymore are…” Lily was stopped mid-sentence when she felt something soft but rather big smack her in the face. She stumbled back and crashed into the bed.
A pillow lay before her…a white and fluffy one actually. Her jaw dropped and she gaped at his smug expression. He had thrown a pillow at her!
Lily shook her head and stood up, wand poised at a dueling stance. “That’s it, Potter. That was the last straw.”
And then she sent a wad of stuffed sheep flying in his direction.
“It took us three weeks to find out where she was last seen, and then another week and a half to finally reach the site. There were Death Eaters everywhere…at least five at each gate. It was apparently one of Voldemort’s strongholds.”
Lily leaned in closer to hear his story, but even that space was limited. After their impromptu stuffed animal battle, James had led them to his bed and they were now leaning against the headrest, a few plushies resting here and there. James had come up with a rather startling variety. She had no idea where he came up with the idea of throwing armadillos and hippopotamuses, but he did. And now he was mindlessly fiddling with the ears of a miniature elephant, his thoughts elsewhere.
“Was it…was it hard to save her?”
His smile was half-hearted. “You have no idea. Yes, it was hard. Not the getting in part, believe it or not. It was the escaping-with-Aileen-part that was difficult.”
She tilted her head, confused. “Why?”
James blew out a breath of air, closed his eyes, and leaned back against the wall. “It wasn’t a pleasant sight to see when I first entered. It was dark…”
James pulled his wand out of his pocket and hid in the dark corner. He was incredibly tempted to cast a light down the dark hallway, but he knew he would give himself away. His dad had specifically told him to keep himself hidden, and while it was beneficial to a certain degree, it forced him to take leave of one of his senses…one that he would’ve preferred to keep. He peaked out from the darkness and upon seeing that there were no guards, he slid out from his hiding spot and trekked along through the darkness.
His dad had gone to distract the guards from entering, and while he wished that he had gone with his dad, he knew that he had to save Aileen first. From the information they had gotten, he knew that she was locked in one of the deeper cells.
It paid to be a high-ranking Auror, he thought wryly. Back at Hogwarts, he had aspired to be the best Auror that the wizarding world had ever seen, but if he couldn’t even find his childhood best friend, he was pretty much useless.
James shook his head to clear his thoughts and concentrated on the flight of steps that were mostly concealed by the darkness. He took them two at a time to quicken his pace and reached the second floor without much trouble. There, he saw a couple of tables with a few chairs, but found nothing else. He squinted, and through the mass of darkness surrounding him, managed to see a door. It was implanted inside the wall to make it seem like it was part of it, but James could see where the hinges were and where the discreet lock was.
He glanced around. There was a slim chance that Alohomora would actually work. He snorted and shook his head with a wry smile. His dad would never have agreed to something like this, but he was in a desperate situation, and desperate times called for desperate measures.
He pointed his wand at the lock, muttered a spell, and hastily stepped back to avoid the debris that flew in all directions after the door had blasted into smithereens. James quickly ducked through the hole in the wall and hid himself under the first object that he saw, which just happened to be a half-broken table.
There were no sounds.
From his point of view, he could count at least six jail cells, each guarded by metal bars that were undoubtedly secured by magic. Which one would Aileen be in? He ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. It was at a time like this that he missed Lily the most. She always had a cool head when it came to these situations. He briefly wondered what she was doing…was she sleeping? Getting a midnight snack? Talking on the Muggle phone with her friends? Or was she touring the world with her family?
He shook her face out of his head and concentrated on the task at hand. Lily may have been a good mind soother, but she was also incredibly distracting. He smiled faintly. Who could’ve thought that James Potter would fall so hard? She wasn’t even next to him and he was seeing her as if she were right there.
James averted his attention back to the pressing problem at hand and recounted the cells. There were seven, actually, and now that he was in a better position, he realized that he was able to see the inhabitants from his position. He slowly stood up, looked around, and then frowned. It was beneficial that he didn’t run into any Death Eaters along the way, but at the same time, it was disturbing. For Death Eaters not to guard their main base was highly unlikely. Even Voldemort wasn’t a fool.
But there could also be the chance that his dad had drawn all the attention away, leaving James an evacuated hallway. Making sure that he didn’t touch any of the metal bars, he leaned into the cell. It was a man that he didn’t recognize, battered and bruised. He didn’t stop to feel pity and moved down the line.
Each cell’s inhabitant was either unconscious or oblivious to anything except his own hands. All heads were down and the ones that were actually looking forward weren’t seeing anything. James could tell from the vacant look in their eyes. For all it mattered, he could’ve blinded them and they wouldn’t have noticed anything. He winced upon this realization. Aileen was one of these people. How badly had she been treated?
He got his answer upon arriving at the sixth cell. The lighting was darker here, and James had to wait for his eyes to adjust before squinting into the tiny space. There he found her, slumped against the wall, seemingly unconscious save for the occasional twitch of her fingers.
James felt ill to his stomach. He could recognize Aileen no matter how much she had changed, but the girl in front of him was too different. Her hair was no longer blonde, and instead, was a shade of black. He didn’t want to think about how many layers of grime were caked on it. From the looks of it, her skin was so pale that it was practically glowing in the dark. Her appearance faintly reminded him of the Malfoy family’s disgustingly pale complexion. His best friend had been beautiful, but now she was a mere shell of who she used to be.
He rushed forward and gripped the metal bars, ignoring the sharp pains that coursed through his hands from defensive magical barrier. “Aileen,” he whispered. “Aileen!”
She slowly lifted her head, her eyes a deep violet. James bit his lip. Previously, her eyes had turned violet only when she was angry…but now they just seemed dead. She stared at him, her eyes unblinking, her face pallid.
“Aileen! I’m going to get you out of here.” He leaned forward and winced slightly as the magic bit into him. “Can you stand and move back a little? I’m going to blast this door open.”
To his utter confusion, she didn’t move, merely cracked a grin and let out a bitter, hoarse chuckle. “Oh hell, I’m hallucinating again.” Her laughter died down. “For the bloody thousandth time…”
James suffered through a mild shock. This had to be the first time he had ever heard Aileen utter a curse word…or wait, two curse words.
“You’re not hallucinating. Aileen, I’m really here. Me, James Potter. Remember me? I’m going to get you out of here, all right? Can you work with me?”
“James Potter?” Aileen cocked her head. “Oh.” Her expression registered distaste. “Him.”
His heart thumped. “What do you mean? Aileen, look at me!”
“I see you, I see you,” she assured him, waving her hands listlessly. “The guy who rejected me, right?” Aileen looked at him and smiled, albeit slightly crazily. “I hate that guy, you know? I hate him, I hate him, I…” She paused, then. “Wait, you are him.” She nodded. “Yes, that’s right. I hate you.”
James’s hands tightened around the bars and he looked away. He had known she was angry and hurt, but he didn’t think that she would’ve held a grudge for so long. She wasn’t completely lucid, yes, but wasn’t there a line that went something like, “Drunkards have no secrets.” And her mindset was no more complex than that of a drunk person…which meant that she was telling the truth…
“Look Aileen, now isn’t the time. I’m going to get you out whether you hate me or not, all right?”
She rolled her eyes. “You could possibly get me out…but James Potter can’t. He’s weak. He’s stupid. He’s a coward. He was scared that he’d get attached, you know?”
James bit down on his lips hard enough that he tasted blood. He couldn’t stand it anymore. He stepped back, sucked in a deep breath to quell his rising emotions, and yelled, “Reducto!”
The cell door was blasted open and he ran in and flew to his knees in front of Aileen. Her face was still bland, her eyes blank. The only slight form of expression on her face was the faint curve of her lips, but even that seemed directed to some invisible being. James took her shoulders in his hands and he shook her.
“Aileen, get a hold of yourself! Get up!”
Her smile twisted. “Up? Get up?” And then she suddenly broke out into violent shudders. James looked at her, horrified. What was happening? Was she convulsing? “I-I c-can’t get u-up! I can’t!” she said brokenly.
He gritted his teeth. He didn’t want to do this, but he was going to have to do it by force. Without her consent, he grabbed her arm and yanked her up to her feet, attempting to pull deaf ears to her sudden gasp of pain. The chains prevented her from going too far, and she had almost fallen back down when James whipped out his wand and blasted the lock apart.
And that was when pure chaos broke out.
Spells shot out from the four walls, and it took James a moment too late to realize that breaking the chains had been the detonating key for them. He ducked and pulled Aileen with him. She fell down too easily and couldn’t get up quickly enough. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her forward with him…only to face five masked men.
The Death Eaters had decided to join the party. James sighed. He should’ve known there was some trick to this whole thing. How could he have been so stupid?
Aileen was laughing, her head tossed back, as if this was some wonderful spring day in the park. She was weaving in and out of the spells, dodging them by some miraculous coincidence. James whirled around and jabbed a Death Eater in the stomach and Expelliarmus-ing another Death Eater’s wand. He grabbed Aileen again and seeing an opening between the last three standing, he sprinted through, his pace slowed down by her stumbling.
“Are you James Potter?” Aileen asked after they had passed the initial door that James had entered, the Death Eater still hot on their tail.
He didn’t look back. “Doesn’t matter who I am.”
“Of course it does,” she replied, nodding vigorously even though she was still running. “If you are, then I wouldn’t go anywhere with you. If you aren’t, feel free to take me and elope off to the horizons.”
If James hadn’t been in such a tight situation, he would’ve laughed. The entire scene was too hilarious, and he would’ve stopped and briefly celebrated a sudden return of Aileen’s previous personality if a hex hadn’t narrowly missed his head. He was encouraged to increase his speed, and a moment later, burst out of the base and into the open air. The sky had darkened while he was in there, and he breathed in a sense of relief. He could finally apparate now.
James held Aileen close in case she were to fall again and scouted the grounds for his father. A minute later, he found him battling off the last remaining Death Eaters, and he appeared next to James, his breaths coming in short gasps.
James nodded. “Ready.”
And then they apparated back to the closest Auror safe house.
James lifted his hand. Lily noted the faint lines that ran down his palm. They weren’t prominent enough for his hand to feel rough, but if she looked, they were definitely visible. It had to be from the magic that had protected the jail cells.
“It must’ve hurt,” she whispered, running her fingers along his palm. “Does it hurt if I touch it?”
“No, don’t worry.” He laughed and ruffled her hair. “It’s fine now.”
Lily frowned, her green eyes troubled. “But I don’t understand. How could she have hated you? The two of you are so close now.”
James shrugged, and he tugged harder on the stuffed elephant’s ear. “She slept for three days after we rescued her. When she woke up, she seemed to have forgotten everything except for the fact that my dad and I had saved her.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about.”
A corner of his mouth tipped up. “Lily, I’m not worried. It’s just a fact. And I know she wasn’t just blabbering nonsense because she said the exact same thing to me when I rejected her.” He sighed. “She knew who I was.”
“Oh come on,” she said, swatting his shoulder lightly with her sheep. “If Aileen didn’t mention it again and the two of you are as friendly as ever, what’s there to lose? All you have to do is pretend it never happened and everything’s good to go.”
“You’re so optimistic about this,” he observed, his voice light and amused. “Not so bitter about it anymore?”
She crossed her arms and blew out an exasperated sigh. “Get over yourself, James. It was just a momentary lapse of my judgment. It won’t happen again.” She shrugged as airily as possible. “Besides, you seemed so melancholy.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I was pretty hurt.”
Lily cocked her head and leaned slightly towards him. “I never knew so much happened after you had left. And come to think, I was just sitting around feeling bored.”
James grinned. He picked up her hand and wove his fingers through hers. “You had a lot on your hands too. Head duties, graduation, spring event, and all that. I wouldn’t have been able to manage it.” His thumb stroked her hand soothingly. “Now come to think of it, I haven’t properly thanked you for taking up double roles.”
“I’ll be generous.”
There was a period of silence between them. Lily’s gaze was focused on the window that faced the giant field surrounding the safe house. The sun was bright in the sky and the day looked warm. She looked back at James and saw that he was staring at the elephant, his brows furrowed as if his mind was elsewhere.
A question suddenly popped into her mind. “Hey James?”
He glanced at her. “Yeah?”
“Remember back when I was doing my exam, you asked me if I knew anything about the Order?”
James nodded slowly, his expression guarded. Lily watched him with mild confusion. “Yes,” he said. “I remember. What about it?”
“What is the Order, exactly?”
He sighed and pushed himself up so he wasn’t slouched against the headrest. It seemed as if he was mentally prepping himself for a long explanation. “The Order is short for Order of the Phoenix. It’s a kind of a secret association that Dumbledore created, and we specialize in handling more secretive information regarding Voldemort and his plans.”
Lily frowned as she took the information in. “So are all Aurors a part of this?”
“No. Only a select few whom Dumbledore trusts beyond everyone else.”
“Then…” She was beginning to feel rather heavy-hearted. “Wouldn’t you be violating some Order code since you just told me all about it?”
James laughed and shook his head. He tugged her closer so that she rested her head on his shoulder. “Of course not,” he murmured. “You’re already on Dumbledore’s list. We just had to wait until you became an Auror before we could get you to join. Dumbledore will tell you more about it when you see him later.”
Lily nodded and lapsed into silence. James’ constant stroking of her hair was entirely too comfortable, and she probably would’ve fallen asleep if the door didn’t open right then.
Aileen poked her head in and her eyes widened upon seeing the interaction. She smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I should’ve knocked first. Am I interrupting something?”
James grinned and shook his head. “Nope, not really. Did you need something?”
“Actually…I was hoping I could talk to Lily for a moment.” She glanced at Lily. “If that’s okay with you, I mean.”
Lily smiled. “It’s fine.” She untangled herself from James and gestured for Aileen to sit on the bed. James heaved out a big laborious-sounding sigh and hopped off the bed, making a grand bowing gesture towards Aileen as he did.
“See how much I sacrifice for you people? I’m even getting kicked out of my own room.”
Aileen rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, we appreciate you for it.” She waited until James closed the door before she turned around and gave Lily a hesitant smile. “I’m not sure how much you know about me, but…”
“Not much,” Lily cut in hurriedly. She didn’t want the girl to think that James had practically told her his best friend’s life story. “James didn’t really tell me much, only that you’re his childhood best friend.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Aileen blew out a breath of relief. “It’s kind of embarrassing to tell a story twice, if you know what I mean.”
Lily blinked. “You’re going to tell me your…story?”
“Well…actually, it’s more of an explanation.” For once, there was no smile on Aileen’s face. “I know you were shocked when you realized I was here with James…and I heard about that fight you had with him because of me.”
Lily flushed a furious crimson and ducked her head slightly. “Ah that.” She rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly. “Um…I don’t know how to explain it. It was more of a misjudgment on my part since I have a tendency to jump to conclusions and…”
“It’s all right, Lily. You don’t need to explain.” Aileen brushed a stray lock of blonde hair out of her eyes. “I understand. I know where you’re coming from because…”
“Because you like him too?” Lily said softly.
Aileen looked surprised. “How’d you know I used to…”
“Remus told me,” she said, by ways of explanation. “James was really anguished over a period of time when he thought you had died. I was curious as to why he had undergone a sudden change in personality.”
“Personality change?” She looked surprised.
Lily nodded slowly. “Yeah…you mean James didn’t tell you?”
“No. He didn’t mention it.”
“Oh…” Lily mentally kicked herself. If James hadn’t mentioned it, he probably hadn’t meant for Aileen to know. What would he say if he knew that…
Aileen reached forward and grabbed Lily’s hand warmly, knocking the redhead out of her thoughts. “Thanks for telling me that, Lily. It really means a lot to me.”
“No problem…I guess?” She slowly pulled her hand away and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um…Aileen? I was wondering…please don’t take offense to this…but um…”
“It’s all right. Just ask.”
“Well I was wondering…if you still like James.”
Much to her relief, the blonde merely smiled and shook her head. “I’ll admit that I liked him before. I know it’s strange for you to hear this, but who doesn’t like James?” Lily had to smile at that. “Before I left, I told him that I liked him…but he rejected me.” Aileen’s smile was slightly bitter. “I hated him for a while, but now I’m over it.”
Lily nodded slowly, her breathing coming easier. She didn’t bother mentioning that James had told her the entire story about Aileen’s escape. It appeared as if Aileen really had just been delirious at the time. After all, she had just admitted that she didn’t hate James anymore.
“Well that’s good to hear.”
Aileen laughed. “I suppose.” Her smile was earnest. “I know you may still be a little worried about the fact that James and I are so close, but I just wanted to say that…”
“No, no, it’s all right. Don’t worry. I’m not…”
“No, I want you to hear me out.” Lily fell silent. “I won’t lie and say that the Aurors haven’t speculated that James and I could possibly become a couple. But I know that we could only ever be friends because it’s so blatantly clear that he loves you.”
There was a brief lull in the conversation, and then Lily said, “Thank you. I’m truly flattered.”
Aileen held out her hand. “So…are we friends?”
She grinned and grasped the blonde’s hand. “Of course.”
The moment was ruined when the door slammed open, and before Lily knew it, James was flying over, and his hand landed on theirs with a loud smack.
“And me!” he cried. “Don’t forget about me. I want to be friends.”
Lily and Aileen glanced at each other, shared a secret smile, and then simultaneously shoved him away. “Oh sod off, James. This is a girls’ thing.”
Lily nodded. “Yup.”
James was unprepared for the sudden shove and would’ve fallen in a heap on the ground if two people hadn’t arrived to catch him by the arm and stabilize him.
“Smooth move, Prongs. And I thought you had a way with women.”
Lily started at the voice and looked up to find Sirius Black and Remus Lupin standing, one on either side of James. They both sported wide grins, and Lily’s heart fluttered. She hadn’t seen either of them in so long and they were looking as good as ever.
“Remus! Sirius! What are you two doing here?”
James glared at her and muttered something incoherent under his breath, but it was clear that the words weren’t flatting. He rubbed his shoulder and then crossed his arms. “Why don’t you ever give me a friendly greeting? The first chance you had, you hid yourself under the covers.”
Lily ignored him and hugged Remus and then Sirius. She smirked. “That’s because they’re more lovable than you are.”
Sirius nodded and clapped Lily on the shoulder. “That’s right, Prongs. Don’t worry though. I’ll try not to outshine you too much during our missions.”
The redhead lifted a brow. “Our missions?”
Remus blinked. “You mean you don’t know?”
Aileen came forward and stood beside Lily, her smile warm. “She doesn’t. We haven’t gotten the chance to tell her yet.”
Now Lily was feeling rather left out. “Tell me what?”
“We’re part of your team.” Sirius sported a wide grin. “We’re groupies!”
The others gaped at him. “We’re what?”
Author's Note: I considered writing this full chapter in James' POV but then I realized that it wouldn't have fit the general POV of this entire story. So I inserted a little blurb in there. Hope it provides an adequate explanation :)
Thanks and please review!
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